IRVINE, Calif. -- Junior forward Nathan Nienhuis scored with less than 5 minutes left in regulation to lift the NAIA’s No. 12-ranked Azusa Pacific to a 2-1 Golden State Athletic Conference victory at Concordia University Tuesday afternoon.
Nienhuis’ tally, his third of the season, capped the Cougars’ first come-from-behind victory since Nov. 1, 2008, nearly 2 years ago when Azusa Pacific rallied from a 1-0 halftime deficit to beat Vanguard University, 2-1, for the GSAC championship. Ironically, Cougar Head Coach David Blomquist, then an assistant, was serving as the team’s mentor that day in place of Phil Wolf, who was out of town.
“I remember that game well,” said Blomquist. “It’s been a long time, but our guys played well today and deserved a comeback win.”
Nienhuis scored from 12 yards out, slipping the ball under the right side of Concordia’s charging keeper, Mike Radchuk. Throughout the game, Nienhuis had made several runs to get behind the Eagle defense, none of them working until Vinicius Dantas hit Nienhuis in stride with a perfect pass between Eagle defenders.
“Vini and Nate understand each other pretty well and have developed a pretty good bond on the field,” said Blomquist. “They play off each other and read what the other is doing. Vini made a great pass, and Nate did a good job getting the ball past their keeper.”
The Cougars fell behind early, allowing Concordia to take a 1-0 lead less than 6 minutes into the game on a Roi Castro goal. The Eagles determined the tempo in the opening minutes and had the Cougars on their heels, even well after the goal.
“This has always been a difficult place for us,” said Blomquist, recalling the Cougars’ last visit to Concordia when the Eagles posted a 3-1 decision to hand the Cougars their only GSAC loss in 2008. “For whatever reason, it’s always a tough game for us here.”
Over the course of time, Azusa Pacific settled its play and Dantas got the equalizer with his team-leading 11th goal in the 33rd minute. He rifled a shot from 20 yards over the top of Radchuk to tie the game at 1-1 at halftime.
Concordia had a couple of second-half chances to re-take the lead but Cougar keeper Joe Geletko was up to the task, stopping both shots and allowing Nienhuis to come off the bench with his game-winning heroics.
“There is a difference between knowing a game is played for 90 minutes and understanding it’s a 90-minute game,” said Blomquist. “The guys are realizing how much effort they need to put in for a full game.”
Azusa Pacific out-shot Concordia, 15-14, which included a 5-4 count on-frame. The 2 teams split 6 corner kicks.
The Cougars have now won 3 straight and improve to 10-2 overall, 3-1 in the GSAC, while Concordia falls to 6-4 overall, 1-2 in the GSAC.